How Filmhouse IMAX Will Change Cinema In Nigeria [Exclusive Interview With The GM]

The new Filmhouse IMAX is not your grandma’s cinema. Apart from being Nigeria’s first IMAX cinema, it’s got unprecedented extras such as a VIP section where moviegoers can dine while watching a movie. There’s also something called “The CUBE” screening experience, and bars, too.

As Filmhouse IMAX opens its doors for the first time today (September 9), 15 months after the owners signed an agreement with IMAX, I speak to the General Manager, Ben Raynor. Just like you, I’d like to know what makes this new theatre different from what the country currently has, including the nine cinemas being run by the Filmhouse group across seven Nigerian cities.

Mr Raynor has been in the cinema  business for 20 years. His last job before coming to Nigeria was as Front of House Manager for  the Regent Street Cinema in London. Previously, he had spent over four years as Assistant Venue Manager at Barbican Centre, and before that, nearly six years as Cinema Manager at Odeon & UCI Cinemas, also in London.

IMAX aspect ration

Now, he’s “responsible for delivering an experience beyond cinema for all guests to the complex, recruiting and training the teams for the Cinema and Restaurants, planning and implementing a Marketing strategy to promote Filmhouse IMAX.” He will also be “building relationships with local businesses and partner for the benefit of Filmhouse and developing the operational aspects of the complex to meet the expectation of everyone.”

So, what will Filmhouse IMAX movies look like? How much will it cost to watch a movie? How will Lagos see blockbusters after their release? How good is all of this for Nollywood? We ask him all of these and more:

How did you arrive at the conclusion that this is the best time for IMAX in Nigeria?

For me IMAX is the best way to watch movies; therefore having IMAX in Nigeria at this time was an easy decision for Filmhouse Cinemas to make. The is no time like the present to make something like this a reality.

This gives brighter and sharper images and a better depth of field for 3D.

What type of IMAX is the Filmhouse IMAX?

Our IMAX Theatre is the Digital version of the technology, this means all films are a “File” on a hard drive. A major difference with IMAX is it uses 2 projectors for the image rather than just 1, like all other cinema technology. This gives brighter and sharper images and a better depth of field for 3D.

Who and who were involved in bringing this dream to life?

The deal Filmhouse made with IMAX happened in 2015 and would signed by the company MD – Kene Mkparu and company Deputy MD – Kene Okwuosa.

Why did you choose to build a totally new structure for the cinema rather than partner with an existing mall or property in the city?

IMAX is a technology that can be put into existing cinemas/auditoriums, but the reality in Nigeria is there are very few places that would be big enough. Filmhouse knew the best way to bring IMAX to Nigeria was in a purpose built Cinema complex; the facilities we have at Filmhouse Lekki really do need a building all to themselves.

 

What did the cost to bring something of this magnitude to reality?

I am not aware of the financial cost of Filmhouse Lekki as a whole; but I do know the amount of man hours that went into making this a reality. I have been in Nigeria since the end of May and since then the construction and installation has been pretty much around the clock; Filmhouse wants to thank every single person who helped and hope they feel very proud of what they have helped to achieve.

What are your projected monthly costs – maintenance, manpower, electricity, etcetera?

The cost of running a building like this are likely to be higher than most expected; my job as General Manager will be to manage these in line with any revenue we can generate, and in turn make a profit whilst giving our Guests an experience the will never forget!

How soon do you think this project will turn a profit?

I wouldn’t want to put a date on this, our first steps will be to build the reputation so our guests know what to expect when arriving at Filmhouse Lekki. A lot of the operational tasks we will be undertaking to “turn a profit” will be developed so I would imagine a few months of bedding in for the business.

Why is Lekki the perfect location for the first Filmhouse IMAX?

Being a new comer to Nigeria I am not fully aware of most locations within Lagos; What I do know about Lekki is that is a residential development and with this area not having a cinema locally it would be a crime. Previous to Filmhouse Lekki opening people would have to travel through the toll gate to the nearest cinema, we’re in the perfect location for everyone this side of the toll. I have also seen the surrounding plots of land develop since the cinema has taken shape; people are reacting to us being here and the is also a benefit of being in Lekki Phase One.

How do you feel about this project coming to fruition during an economic recession?

During recession the economy needs businesses to put back in, so to speak. The development of our Lekki site and generated jobs, opportunities and now a place to enjoy life. Recessions happen, it is unfortunate, but the best way out it to keep things moving and having businesses like Filmhouse grow, can only help.

What are your plans for taking Filmhouse IMAX beyond Lekki, and Lagos?

I know the plan for Filmhouse and IMAX does not stop at 1. Filmhouse signed a 10 year agreement with IMAX and will announce further locations in due time.

What challenges did you face while working on this project?

Personal the biggest challenge was patience, I come to Nigeria as a cinema operator. Only now do I feel like I will be working, I really cannot wait to open my doors.

How do you think Nollywood can take advantage of Filmhouse IMAX, considering how tough it is for local filmmakers to access high calibre film equipment in the country?

I think Nollywood will see IMAX as an aspiration. I’d like to think during the time I will spend in Nigeria the first IMAX formatted Nollywood film will be released. Filmmakers want their movies seen in the best format possible, IMAX will offer them that and now the can see firsthand how their films could look.

What will it cost to see a movie at Filmhouse IMAX?

Tickets to see a movie in the IMAX Theatre will cost N3000 for adults, N2000 for children and N8000 for a family of 4. There is a N500 charge for 3D films.

How many theatres are in the complex?

The cinema has five different auditoriums. The IMAX Theatre sits 339, Premium 1 takes 75, Premium 2 sits 75, The Signature Screen– 30, and The CUBE takes eight.

Do you only show IMAX features, or will you play regular movies?

Our IMAX theatre is able to present other non-IMAX movies; however we will try to show IMAX content wherever possible. The other 4 auditoriums cannot show IMAX content.

Will you be working with Nigerian filmmakers in any way to produce IMAX movies?

This is not something within my control, but I would like to think Filmhouses’ sister company FilmOne will try to be at the front of the queue when a filmmaker shows an interest in creating the first Nollywood IMAX movie.

I understand that IMAX use a different kind of film – not reels but heavy plates. What is the process of getting your own films in time, since what you need is different from all other Nigerian cinemas?

Our films are in digital form; this means no reels or heavy plates. Films can arrive here in much the same way as any other cinema in Nigeria. The only difference is the file is a different format; an IMAX formatted film could not play on a regular projector.

Ben Raynor Filmhouse IMAX GM
Ben Raynor, GM, Filmhouse IMAX

According to the Fimhouse IMAX Facebook page, the cinema is opens Friday. Yesterday, the group, in association with Blue Pictures, held a VIP screening of Sully at the new venue.

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